Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Tower of Power: A View From The Top

Act 1, Scene 1

(setting: The new millennium has come. A large skyscraper overlooks an unnamed American city. An aging man in a business suit is seated at a large, over-sized wooden desk. He has three full-sized computer monitors in front of him. Surrounding the room are bookcases full of leather bound books. Behind the man is a full-sized glass window that overlooks the man's empire. Smokestacks can be seen in the background. It is dusk, with the sun setting in the window)

Voice from outside the room: Sir, it's your assistant. May I enter?

Boss: You may.

Assistant: Thank you. Sir, I've got some bad news. It seems that the whole internet thing is not a passing fad as we had hoped. In fact, internet usage is not only leveling off as we had hoped but it is actually increasing. Sir with all these people now having access to a wide variety of information, it's only a matter of time before people really begin to find out what is going on. Sir, with all due respect it's time to panic!

Boss: Relax. We all knew this day would come.

Assistant: But sir, you don't seem to understand the severity of the situation. The general populace is only a short time away from becoming the most educated citizenry in history. There's no way to stop them from figuring out the truth!

Boss: (smiles) Ah, my young apprentice. You have much to learn. Come, have a seat and I shall explain exactly how the people shall remain blind to what really goes on.

Assistant: (seats himself at boss' table)

Boss: First off, you must realize that our goal is to maintain the status quo so that people like us may prosper and our progeny will inherit our wealth and thus the cycle will continue. Therefore, it is important that nobody be allowed to somehow, some way rise to prominence out of the blue. The way we will maintain our status is through education.

Assistant: Uh, sir, I don't follow.

Boss: (sighs) It's quite simple. The populace as you mentioned has unlimited access to technology. Children are naturally inquisitive about those kind of things and so for us to maintain our status we must simply quash their curiosity. We must make their lives so difficult that they won't even want to explore the massive amounts of information that exists on the internet.

Assistant: Oh, so we distract them? But sir, how do we do that when they can access the internet at their homes?

Boss: Simple. We offer mindless entertainment for them rather than have them do diligent research. We create video game players with mindless games that they would rather play after school with their buddies than to use their computers for educational purposes. We also put on mindless television at the prime hours when the students get home. Surely, they would much rather watch cartoons than actually go to their computers to actually do meaningful investigation, right?

Assistant: Ah, sir that's brilliant. Make it so they don't even want to learn about what's really going on. Mindless entertainment is always the answer. But sir, what about in schools? Surely, they will be using the internet for education purposes there, right?

Boss: I have thought about this possibility as well. The solution is quite simple actually. Instead of having schools encourage diligent inquiry, we simply make them focus on one or two core areas to test all their students on. Something basic like math and reading, I don't know. We then say that if schools don't reach certain goals then they can lose money or even have to shut down. It will kill children's curiosity because we will test at various grade levels including elementary school. We'll test them to death! (laughs)

Assistant: I like it, sir. But how can we get ALL the school's to buy into this? Surely, some will complain and argue that testing is unnecessary, right?

Boss: Herein lies the beauty. We make it a national initiative. Call it something cheesy about equaling opportunity in schools. We then give them an unobtainable goal of having 100% proficiency. Any idiot knows that 100% proficiency is not even possible! But all these schools will be so blind and so fearful of losing funding that they'll still strive to do this. Even schools that are making progress will have set the bar so low that they'll actually celebrate being proficient when in fact proficiency might mean only getting 60% of the questions right on an end-of-year test. I figure this plan should last for a good 15 years or so.

Assistant: (laughs) Ah, sir this is brilliant. We dumb down the kids so much and test them to the max so they become numb by the time they reach the university level. Amazing. But sir, what about some of the brighter students? You know, the ones who don't mind testing and that excel in the creative arts. Surely they will be able to read through our smoke and mirrors?

Boss: Yes, they are tricky ones. Throughout history, performers have often risen to the forefront of political movements and openly mocked their opponents. However, this shall not be the case with us. You see, schools will be so consumed by testing that they will inevitably place all their resources to those core areas. To do this, they will cut programs they deem unnecessary. If your students are being tested in reading and math, what good do theater and music do you? Absolutely nothing that's what! These brighter students will lose their creative outlet and become drones like their peers. Sure, they'll survive the high-stakes testing portion, but they will lose their creativity and by the time they reach college, they'd rather bong a beer than listen to Bach! (laughs)

Assistant: Sir, that is brilliant! We take care of all the students in one fell swoop with this ridiculous testing program. But sir, what about teachers who don't buy in to this scheme? You know, the ones who think we shouldn't teach to test?

Boss: Luckily for us we already have a built-in system to deal with them. Our education unions have an antiquated system of tenure in place that keeps our people in the schools. This way, it becomes very difficult for new blood to enter and to begin to undermine our scheme. Odds are, these new teachers will get so frustrated so fast they'll leave the profession. I bet we can even get half the teachers to leave the profession within 5 years! Even those that somehow manage to stick around, why we'll come up with someway to get rid of them. (pauses) I've got it! When state government need to cut programs, we'll go directly to education. We'll make teachers expendable! (laughs) We'll even come up with some kind of policy that fires new teachers first. This way, there will be no new blood and our old guard shall reign supreme!

Assistant: Oh, sir this plan is simply brilliant. First student motivation and now the teachers. But sir, I have to ask, what about these charter schools? You know, the ones who are independent who aren't under the same strict regulations as their public school peers. Surely they are a threat to us, are they not?

Boss: Ah yes, I have heard about these schools. Founded by educators. Using established best practices. Open to all students within a district. Yes, they are tricky. However, in order to stymie them, we simply pit them against the public schools. We make public schools aware of how charter schools are taking their students as thus the funding that goes with these students. We evaluate these charters harshly when their provisional charters are up and if they don't make similar progress to their public school counterparts then we simply shut them down. We also hark on any kind of negative publicity we can for them and we make the public aware that these schools aren't any better than their public counterparts. These charter schools are simply a flash in the pan.

Assistant: I love it, sir. Pitting schools against each other and there all so involved in their own struggles that they can't see how the system we control is actually at fault. It's beautiful in its simplicity. But sir, there is one last thing that concerns me. What if, somehow some way, people still see through everything. What if, an idealistic teacher is able to see what exactly is going on? What if this teacher uses the internet to tell this story? How can we stop such a person?

Boss: (smiles) Simple. We open the internet up so that every whack job and weirdo can have just as much say as our teacher friend. We load up the internet so that racists, hate groups, prisoners, conspirators, frauds, junkies, prostitutes, and any other non-reputable person you can name has just as much ability to post their own thoughts and musings to the internet. This way, people have to shift through millions of web pages and our teacher friend's page gets lost in the shuffle. (laughs) Why, I bet at the end of the day there is only a handful of people who actually follow the work of our teacher friend while athletes, actors, and celebrities will have millions of followers. The educated citizenry that you feared will be so dumbed down from their schooling experience that they would much rather watch and listen to mindless thoughts and musing of celebrities rather than an educated teacher. And that, my good friend, is the beauty of everything we are doing.

Assistant: (laughs) Ah, sir I love it! (pauses) But sir, do you really think this will work? I mean, can such an intricate and involved plan merely to maintain the status quo actually be played out in the way in which you have described?

Boss: (turns to audience) You tell me.

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